(A series looking at the top players at various positions leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft, set for April 25-27.)
There is a difference between hype and drama, and when it comes to teams' decisions during the NFL Draft, it's a significant difference. And while hype isn't necessarily a good thing by any means, it's a whole lot better than drama.
For the most part, every NFL Draft boils down to guesswork. Maybe educated guesswork, maybe expensive guesswork, but guesswork nonetheless. What makes hype dangerous in this whole process is that it can artificially amplify a prospect's assets, it can entice a team into a mistake. But in the case of a legitimate difference-maker, hype is not a negative, because the player ultimately lives up to the hype.
Drama, on the other hand, is always a negative, unless the franchise somehow is in need of attention. Drama comes along with the player, like luggage, and whether he turns out to be a success or failure, the drama he brings must be dealt with throughout his time with the team.
In the case of the linebackers available in this draft, Georgia's Jarvis Jones and LSU's Barkevious Mingo fall into the hype category, while Notre Dame's Manti Te'o and Georgia's Alec Ogletree fall into the drama category.
Even the most casual fan is familiar with the "fake girlfriend" story that exploded in Te'o's face shortly after Notre Dame was brutalized by Alabama in the BCS Championship Game. At the end of the 2012 college regular season, Te'o (6-foot-1, 241-pounds) was seen as a certain first-round pick, a likely top 10 pick, a potential top five pick. In his last three seasons at Notre Dame, Te'o posted 437 tackles, including 33.5 for loss, plus 8.5 sacks, and in 2012 he also recorded seven interceptions on the way to winning six major national awards – the Lombardi, the Maxwell, the Butkus, the Walter Camp, the Bednarik, and the Nagurski – and finishing second in the voting for the Heisman Trophy.
But once the story broke and Te'o found himself on national daytime television with a seat on Katie Couric's couch, he was a tabloid sensation to be stalked by paparazzi everywhere he went. The NFL got a little taste of the Te'o phenomenon when his media session at the Combine drew over 200 media members who bobbed and weaved around his reluctance to talk about his personal life with a series of questions designed to reveal just that.
Ogletree (6-3, 242) is a linebacker with the athleticism of a safety. He has started games at strong safety and linebacker, but also at split end, during his time at Georgia. In 2012, Ogletree missed four games, but in just 10 games he still led the team with 111 tackles, including 11.5 for loss, plus three sacks, five passes defensed, one interception and one forced fumble.
But Ogletree has had problems with the law. He was arrested and charged with the theft of a Georgia student's motorcycle helmet, for which he was suspended for the 2011 season opener. The four games he missed in 2012 were because he violated the school's drug policy, and then just a week before the Scouting Combine Ogletree was arrested again, this time for DUI.
On the flip side, both Jones (6-2, 245) and Mingo (6-4, 241) are among the most hyped players at this position coming down the homestretch of the predraft process.
Jones experienced a health hiccup during his freshman season at USC, which was in 2009. In a game against Oregon, Jones sustained a sprained neck (C5), and the subsequent diagnosis was spinal stenosis. The USC medical staff then refused to clear him to play football, and so he transferred to Georgia after passing a physical there. After sitting out the 2010 season because of the transfer, Jones posted a combined 44 tackles for loss and 28 sacks over the next two seasons. He led the nation last year with 24.5 tackles for loss and with 14.5 sacks. Jones is an accomplished pass-rusher who could be compared in style to former Steelers second-round pick Chad Brown.
Mingo didn't start playing football until his junior year in high school, and he remains a player in development. After taking a redshirt in 2009, Mingo started 16 games over the next three seasons, and he posted 29 tackles for loss, 17 sacks, 11 passes defensed and four forced fumbles. Mingo's statistics might seem rather pedestrian for a guy expected to be drafted in the top half of the first round, but his potential is seen as off the charts. He never has missed any time because of injuries, his character is an asset, he's a quick-twitch athlete, and he can dip and bend to get around an offensive tackle on the way to the quarterback. Mingo is being labeled a rare talent.
Moving away from the drama vs. hype segment of the available linebackers, there are some other prospects who figure to be picked by the time the draft closes for business on Friday, April 26.
Included in that group are Oregon's Dion Jordan (6-6, 248), Kansas State's Arthur Brown (6-0, 241), LSU's Kevin Minter (6-0, 246), North Carolina's Kevin Reddick (6-1, 243), and Alabama's Nico Johnson (6-2, 248).
In some ways Jordan is comparable to Mingo, and there are certain teams that might prefer him if given the choice. He started at Oregon as a tight end before switching to defensive end, and he finished his college career with 29 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks.
Brown's brother, Bryce, is a second-year running back with the Philadelphia Eagles, and he played his first two college seasons for the Miami Hurricanes before transferring to Kansas State. There, Brown was voted Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2012 after recording 100 tackles, one sack, two interceptions, and four passes defensed. Brown was a two-time team captain at Kansas State.
Minter exploded in 2012, which was his second season as a full-time starter, with 130 tackles, including 15 for loss, plus four sacks, five passes defensed, one interception and one forced fumble. He would project to ILB in a 3-4. Reddick and Johnson also project to run-stopping ILB types in the NFL.
THE 2012 NFL DRAFT, LB STATISTICS
Number drafted: Inside: 10; Outside: 20
Picks by round: Inside: 2 in the first; 2 in the second; 0 in the third; 1 in the fourth; 3 in the fifth; 0 in the sixth; 2 in the seventh; Outside: 0 in the first; 3 in the second; 2 in the third; 5 in the fourth; 5 in the fifth; 2 in the sixth; 3 in the seventh.
Highest pick: Inside: Luke Kuechly, Boston College, Round 1, 9th overall, by Carolina; Outside: Courtney Upshaw, Alabama, Round 2, 35th overall, by Baltimore.
Biggest impact: Inside: Luke Kuechly started all 16 games for the Panthers, and he finished with 164 tackles and two interceptions; Outside: Lavonte David was a second-round pick, the 58th overall, by Tampa Bay, and he started all 16 games and finished the season with 139 tackles.